Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How do I love thee?... No, seriously. How?

Turns out, people are different. There is no end to the variety in people. There is no end to the variety in what people want. And each relationship is just as individual as each person.

The rules make it sound so simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple: "Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But how? For one thing, not everyone wants to be handled the way I do. If I literally did to everyone what I wanted done to me... well, most people probably wouldn't feel very loved. I like being teased. I like people to be brutally honest while smiling with a hint of amusement. I like people to talk about philosophy and abstract concepts, to wonder with me at goodness. I love to be laughed at. And I know people who would hate most of those things. And then you have more questions. Is it more loving to let people live their lives and learn from their mistakes, or to try and help them learn the easy way? How much do people just need others to have patience, and how much do they need challenges? How much do they need to be borne with, and how much do they need things to make them change.

Tron Legacy is one of my favorite movies. Which is odd, because I know lots of people who think it terrible. But honestly, if I had to give one reason for why I love that movie so much (apart from the fact that it's visually stunning and the soundtrack is amazing), I would cite one line: "Flynn is teaching me about the art of the selfless, about removing oneself from the equation."

The art of the selfless. It's an odd phrase, but it's so accurate. Selflessness isn't only a principle. It's an art. It requires skill. It must be learned. It's takes a certain amount of creativity, imagination to try to discover the best thing to do in each individual case. But yes, the main idea is to take oneself out of the equation. To be constantly willing to sacrifice yourself, your wants, your time, your plans, your hopes, your dreams, your all for the sake of any other human being, like it or not. That, I suppose, is love.

But it gets confusing, because we aren't God. We don't know their souls, we cannot know for certain what is best for people. We can but try. And even if we're right, we cannot control them. We can't fix people.

Sometimes I feel like I'm shooting in the dark. Do they want a hug, or would they prefer to be left alone? Do they need to talk something out, or do they need to just think right now? Would letting them do this on their own do good by strengthening them, or would giving them a helping hand do them even more good by encouraging them? Do they need someone to sympathize, or do they need a fresh, happier perspective to cheer them up? Or, my personal least favorite one to think about: Do they need me right now, or do they just need someone else? And my usual response is simply, Well, I have no clue, so I guess I'll just try something out and see how it goes.

And I suppose that's all we can do. Try to learn. Try to love them in the best way we know. And if we make mistakes, we can learn from them. After all, it's probably fair to say that a longing to be understood is pretty universal. It just irks me to think that there's a certain amount of trial and error involved in loving others. After all, we're dealing with souls here. Our actions can affect people, deeply, and it's rather terrifying that we could go wrong without even meaning to, could hurt someone we mean to love just because we didn't know any better.

We aren't God. But hey, God is, and he knows precisely what each of our friends needs, and He can give it to them with or without our help. He can work through our failures just as well as through our successes. We couldn't impede His plans for them if we tried. And if we seek to do others good, if we love them for His sake and pray to be a blessing, I trust that He will work through us.

And we will learn. I just have to remember that it isn't about me being the perfect helper, the perfect friend. It's about God's goodness, and He will take care of the story itself. It isn't our job to write the story. Our job is simply to be willing to help others whenever we can, to do our utmost to do others good to the best of our ability and knowledge. To pray for them, knowing that only God can truly help them. And to pray that God would teach us the art of the selfless.


  1. Yes yes yes. What a difficult part of life.

    Removing oneself from the equation is difficult in the sense that you actually do want to change the world (for the better, of course!).

    More recently I have tried asking what people need. Sure, I know it means a lot more if you figure it out on your own, but sometimes I just ask somebody if they need a hug, if there's anything I can do, etc.

    I really like the analogy of God writing the story and us being characters -- we don't write the story, God does. We just do our utmost and trust that God is indeed God, and he is good.

  2. Wow. You expressed this perfectly the way that I wish I could have. How love isn't about your sacrifice but the other person's gain, and how hard that is because people are so different. I think it can be helpful to ask questions if you aren't sure what they need,such as: do you want to talk or do you want to think, or do you want a hug or do you want to be alone. This isn't perfect, of course, because sometimes people say one thing and really need another, but it can be helpful.